Much as I’m feeling something of “the great detachment” myself—and consequently my demiurge remains mostly dormant—an idea stirred in me last week. I can’t bring myself to pitch it seriously in my own neck of the woods, not the least because I think there would be no takers, but I’ll toss it out here in case someone else has a use for it.
Assuming—and it is a perilous assumption, I know—that the fall of 2022 at colleges and universities will return to what most students and faculty think of as the normal rhythms and structure of academic study, then we really need to acknowledge that the 3rd and 4th year students have lost some important portion of the scaffolding that many academic programs rely upon.
At least at my institution and similar colleges and universities, I think that loss seems most acute in the way that we transition from the initial steps in our more sequential majors into more specific subjects and into research-based or practice-based experiences. That transition usually involves some hands-on work with labs, with performance, with materials, with archives or fieldsites. That just has not happened consistently if at all for some portion of the time between March 2020 and right now. I think this is even a problem for relatively non-sequential majors or programs of study like my own department’s major—in terms of thinking about next fall’s courses, while it often feels difficult to know what prior experiences students will have had, it now feels almost impossible to know that, except to know that all of them will have felt somewhat untethered or detached from much of their studies—just as the faculty teaching have felt at times.
So while I understand the impulse to get back to the normal sequence and structure of coursework, I wonder if academic institutions don’t owe something to the students most affected the last two years. So what I was thinking is that academic departments should offer a series of intensive one-time-only proseminars for majors next year that are designed in some sense to “catch up” for what was lost—small class sizes, lots of research experiences or direct work on performances, productions, etc., a re-rooting in the discipline and in specialized subject matter.
“Intensive” means different things in different places, I understand, but what I’m thinking of is something like a block-learning five-days-a-week 1-hour a day class that has the entire attention of the students and the professor.
Which means that doing this is a six-month delay in “return to normalcy”, which is why I assume it’s a dead letter, because at any given institution it would take some significant percentage of the teaching faculty to mount a one-time intensive effort like this. Not to mention the massive preparatory labor it would take to do it right. So I think another thing that weighs against this idea is that to do it right would take a one-time major boost to faculty compensation because it would take so much additional work. (Arguably that would have some justice because of the impact of pay freezes at many institutions in 2008-09 and again in 2020-21; maybe some institutions could consider increasing the number of tenure-track faculty or moving contingent faculty onto the tenure-track as a different way to pay for this kind of intensive year…)
I just can’t shake, however, the thought that we owe something to students coming out of this, and it’s not just putting an asterix next to their names and reminding ourselves that they were operating under a heavy constraint. (There’s another dead letter thought though: in this case, the lawyers would doubtless absolutely nix any proposal that involves acknowledging that students didn’t get everything they were entitled to receive during this time.)
So consider this an open thread of sorts, comments open to all readers: is there anything universities and colleges can do next year that closes some of the gaps that have opened up for students, that acknowledges loss and tries to repair what’s been lost?